One of the fantastic things about mummy-baby culture is the constant flow of hand-me-downs, lend-for-a-whiles and exchanges. These practices build relationships, reciprocity and community. They challenge a capitalist ethic that everything must be individually bought and be new. They encourage care for what you have and an eye for its sustainability, and help everyone maximize the value of goods produced. What’s fascinating is that, unlike traditional gift exchange, the one who gives may not get back, but the person who gets is likely to give to someone else in return. Gifts keep on being given.
As a new mama, i got a beautiful crib on loan from my doula and friend charlotte. charlotte was the first person to cradle Zi as she slid from the womb, in the back of charlotte’s car in my driveway. apparantly, the crib has been through hands before mine, and after me it will leave in good condition for many more. its a warm thought, picturing so many different babies snuggling in that bed. who knows if they will meet up and be friends one day. my friend diana sent a suitcase of clothes from jamaica. how she kept them in such good condition after two girls amazes me, but there Zi is in cute styles i probably would never have bought, runnning to and fro from work as i do. i have a picture with me and diana breastfeeding our babies together, and i know in twenty years we will look back and marvel at how young, hopeful and carefree we look, even if we don’t see it now. diana also sent her breastpump through mariel’s mom, who carried the not-small case in her luggage. between jamaica and trinidad are these two people, totally not connected to either of our children, like Antillean islands helping to form the Caribbean chain.
from my friend michelle came a walker and playmat. mich can attest to how little she bought and how much she got from friends. there is a swing on loan from makeda whose son shiloh and zi are likely to be hanging out for many years of their lives. and from stone’s buddies came play pens and car seats, as well as much daddy-baby advice. those guys never imagined they would have kids at the same time, its funny watching them (the daddies that is) grown up now. and from my friend tessa, i’ve gotten great books, toys and, the latest, a baby ride-on that i know Zi is going to love. i know i’m going to be turning to tess for advice about how to bring up vegetarian young ‘uns and she’s going to give it to me while acting like surely what she’s saying is perfectly obvious, after all i’m a vegetarian too. but she’s got three gorgeous children under her belt and many things that should be are not always obvious to me.
these are just a few of the baby paraphernalia that have been generously lent or given. kept good with care, these things will one day leave my own hands for others; littler babies now encountering the world as mine once did.
so many of these items make me think of and value people, not stuff. ironic isn’t it? exchanges create connections. they connect memories. they add wealth beyond cost. children live on as presences, as lived moments, in these objects scattered around the house. when i look at them, i feel surrounded by friends and babies whose names i can call, one by one, as i sit here with my own. and i feel surrounded, connected, blessed.
its not surprising that women and reproduction would be at the heart of this endless circle. i learned to take care of Zi’s books and things in ways i wouldn’t have had i not witnessed how mothers do it. they care for stuff not only for their own children, but for others, perhaps those they know or those they have now met or ones not yet born. they seem to plan with wide open arms and extra thought. and the love they put into getting leaves traces in the giving.
the joy and help i’ve gotten, i too want to pass on. its so simple the way that mere stuff can accumulate meaning, but its so special when it does.